Monday, May 28, 2007

Facebook wants your info

1984 writer, George Orwell, turned over in his grave when he found out that people were voluntarily submitting information to Big Brother, or rather Facebook.

The social networking site makes it plain and obvious to anyone who bothers to read their privacy statement, that, in essence, there is no privacy to speak of. Furthermore, Facebook declares it plans to sell this information to marketers.

While it may seem fun to let all your high school buddies know what your up to by posting your profile online (ie: where you live, who your dating, you political affiliation, your sexual preference, your favorite music, recreational activities), Facebook is nonetheless an advertiser's wet dream. With the information provided freely by users, it becomes possible to target very specific market segments.

People tell Facebook who they know, where they met them, what was the nature of their relationship, etc. The site then sends email invitations to all their contacts inviting them to join the excitement.

This seems like a total reversal of recent fears about the Internet. What happened to all the people worried about identity theft or about giving out personal information online? It appears most have hopped on the bandwagon and joined the open movement that is becoming the Internet.

Strangely enough though, Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is pretty shy when it comes to his own information. He doesn't even post his picture. Makes me wonder... oh, someone just wrote on my wall. Gotta go.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The end of the PC as we know it is near

With the development of web-based applications, it seems the home based computer may go the way of the 8-track player.

Adobe will soon release its popular Photoshop image editor as an online application. Google recently launched a series of web based applications including a basic office suite. Red Hat also announced a wholly web based desktop called Sugar.

All these Web 2.0 applications make the concept of a PC pretty useless. If all your applications run online, then you don't need a PC. All you need is a way to connect to the Internet, some input devices, and a display of some sorts. As long as the gadget you use is powerful enough to run a web browser, then you're all set. Even the data can be stored online.

However, for this to become reality, ultra fast (wireless) Internet connections and huge server farms will be required.

The downside, if something goes wrong, then all your data and applications are gone. With a PC, at least you can still run everything from home if the Internet tanks.

This trend is already apparent with cell phones serving up email and IM. Pretty basic stuff, but they are setting the stage for something much bigger.

The home based computer will surely survive this evolution as homes become more and more digital. Its functions, though, will likely be much different than what they are today. It will be used to serve Internet-delivered TV to display monitors, to control room temperature, to turn off the lights when you leave them on. Heck, it might even control your nanobots as they clean and maintain the house.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Microsoft wages war on open source

Microsoft has started beating the war drums. Their target, open source software developers.

On May 14th in an interview with Fortune Magazine, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stated that Free Open Source Software violates at least 235 of his company's patents. What Microsoft wants, of course, is for people to pay up.

The software targeted includes the KDE Linux desktop, OpenOffice and a number of email applications. Ballmer states that users of this patent-infringing software should pay royalties to Microsoft.

This is clearly a sign that the omnipresent software giant is feeling pressured. After trying to monopolize the software world and refusing to adopt internationally recognized document formats, Microsoft is feeling the backlash from users who want more affordable (if not free) software.

With hardware vendors such as Dell and Intel partnering with Linux vendors to provide users with more affordable machines, Microsoft has reason to be scared.

According to Free Open Source Software (FOSS) lawyer Eben Moglen, Microsoft doesn't have a case. Moglen argues software is nothing more than mathematical algorithms and such is unpatentable, sort of like saying: "I own 2 + 2 = 4".

Microsoft is slowly changing its business model, maybe out of desperation. The Redmond-based company announced last month that it would make available a stripped-down version of Windows XP and MS Office applications to the Third World for $3 US. This is clearly a response to the One Laptop per Child initiative.

But the monopolistic tendencies are still very present within the software giant's business model. The proprietary .docx file format of the 2007 MS Office suite is an example. Not only does the document format not work with FOSS office suites, it isn't recognized by Office XP.

While corporations, individuals and governments all around the world are moving towards FOSS, Microsoft is still trying to own it all and get everyone to pay for their dominance.

When will they realize knowledge is free and the property of the entire human race?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Free public Wi-Fi in Moncton?

Fredericton has it, so does Moncton.

Well, maybe not permanently, but for five minutes Sunday night, from our apartment at the bottom of Lutz Street, my girlfriend was able to connect to a Wi-Fi network labelled "Free public Wi-Fi". Before I could find out more about it, the network disappeared as fast as it had arrived.

There was talk a few years ago about creating a city-wide public access Wi-Fi network in Moncton similar to the one Fredericton has developed. Maybe this was a test for such a network. However, searching the city's website along with any Google result for "public wireless moncton" turned up nothing. A list of a few hotspots came up but that's about it.

There is a local company, Yamatech, offering wireless broadband service to subscribers under the Red Ball Internet brand. This is not Wi-Fi. Rather, Red Ball uses the IEEE 802.20 frequency (popular in Japan) to provide wireless broadband throughout the city.

Although a great service using cutting edge technology, Red Ball has one downside : its cost. First you must rent or buy the special receiver (regular Wi-Fi cards won't work). Then monthly service charges range from $13 to $55. This seems decent until you check out the bandwidth limit (100 MB to 2 GB respectively). Now broadband is great for many reasons, but mostly because it can handle audio and video streaming.

However, with such pitiful bandwidth limits, users will be paying through the nose if they choose to watch Têtes à claques or listen to podcasts. If you're only going to use the service for email, then it's affordable. In that case, though, you probably don't need broadband.

Anyhow, the "Free public Wi-Fi" network remains a mystery. It would be great, but might deal a significant blow to Yamatech. Then again, maybe not. The Moncton-based company has rights to offer the service across Canada.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

OLPC just made the market bigger

There are over a billion Internet users in the world. That's still a little under 1/6 of the total world population. But the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative aims to change that by offering a laptop to children in developing countries for close to $100 US.

The program's vision is to enhance education in developing countries. Just as many developing countries bypassed the "wired" phase of telecommunications, they will also be able to bypass the traditional "bricks and mortar" approach to education. Here is a quote from the mission statement of the OLPC organization:

Children are consigned to poverty and isolation—just like their parents—never knowing what the light of learning could mean in their lives... an incremental increase of “more of the same”—building schools, hiring teachers, buying books and equipment—is a laudable but insufficient response to the problem of bringing true learning possibilities to the vast numbers of children in the developing world.
Although OLPC's goals are to provide education and learning solutions to poor countries, the widespread availability of Internet-capable personal computers will in effect greatly increase the global online marketplace. Children have parents, neighbors, friends. All these individuals will now have access to the Internet.

Although they may truly be motivated by social change, companies such as eBay have supported this project. It is clear that they see the advantage of expanding the reach of the online marketplace.

Poor children and adults in developing countries don't represent a very attractive market for high end products. But these people do consume. Together, they represent a nearly untapped market of billions.

Companies who target this population with affordable and practical products and services, maybe relying on m-commerce, will surely reap huge benefits.

Regardless of the immediate marketing opportunities, a better-educated global population is sure to radically transform the economy. Will children in Bangladesh grow up to work in factories for extremely low wages or will they benefit from their education and global social networks to develop cheap, automated manufacturing techniques? Only time will tell.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ubuntu week one

Well, I made the jump. It's been a week now that I've been operating my computer using Ubuntu. I had been planning on switching to open source software for some time now, but my new PC was giving me problems (bad stick of RAM). Having solved the problem, I installed Ubuntu.

Its graphical user interface (GUI) is reminiscent of Windows. It's intuitive and easy to use. The best feature is by far the Synaptic package manager and the Add/Remove program function.

With Windows, when you need to install a software application, you usually insert a CD or download the installer file. Then a "wizard" program guides you through the process.

With Ubuntu, procuring, installing and upgrading software has never been easier. The Add/Remove program gives you access to all the applications which function with Ubuntu. Under each name is a brief description of what it does, along with a rating system.

You simply select the applications you wish to install and "tada" they are insalled. I don't know if this feature was available in previous Ubuntu releases, but the FeistyFawn version 7.04 has it. The folks over at Canonical have put a lot of effort into this latest release because this is the one Dell will preinstall on its computers.

Now for the criticism
After installing Ubuntu, I had to consult the user forums to find out how to correct my screen resolution. The only options I had were 800x600 or 640x480. The solution was beyond most computer users as I had to go into Terminal (sort of like DOS) to enter commands. I don't like doing stuff like that. Realistically, if Ubuntu wants to appeal to a mass market, then it absolutely needs to correct problems such as this.

Other glitches include not being able to watch the latest Trailer Park Boys. It might just be a codec problem as other videos work. But I didn't want to waste time so I rebooted and selected the Windows OS to watch the adventures of Ricky, Julian and Bubbles. By the way, season 7 rocks.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Dell goes Open Source

It's official, Dell has announced that it will preinstall the free Ubuntu operating system on select desktop computers. In a statement released Tuesday, May 1st, a Dell spokesperson revealed the world's largest computer retailer will preinstall Ubuntu if customers demand it.

Here is a video by Ubuntu founder, Mark Shuttleworth following the announcement:

According to Computer Business Review Online :

"When asked which distribution of Linux Dell should prioritize on, Ubuntu was the most requested option," the company noted in a short statement on Tuesday. "Today, we are excited to tell you that Dell will begin offering Canonical's latest version, Ubuntu 7.04, as an option on select Dell consumer models in the US in the coming weeks."
Dell, already a leader in using the capabilities offered by the Internet as a basis for its business model is now showing leadership in responding to consumer demand through online forums and company blogs. The idea of offering Ubuntu is the result of Dell's IdeaStorm website.

The company set up the website in February to get customer feedback and develop new ideas. An overwhelming amount of users requested Dell offer Linux, and Firefox on its systems. Ubuntu packages all those into its installation package.

The IdeaStorm site has also led Dell to revert to offering Windows XP. After all, the full version Vista won't run on most desktops and laptops.

It seems even Michael Dell, company CEO and founder, is a Ubuntu fan.

Last month the company revealed that Michael Dell was using Ubuntu 7.04 on his own personal Precision M90 laptop, alongside the productivity suite and Firefox browser. If it's good enough for the CEO, it's good enough for the customers (source).
Not only will this move be good for customers (who will be saving hundreds of dollars in software fees), it's also good news for Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) and Free open source software (FOSS) groups all over the world.

When will business wake up and realise FOSS is the way of the future? It's free. It's standardized. Furthermore, it's open source, so any software can be modified or scaled to suit the company's needs.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Affordable ERP

SAP, Oracle, JD Edwards all have one thing in common. They are, for the most part, unaffordable to small and medium enterprises (SME). Be it the initial purchase cost, the software license fees or the implementation/consultation costs, most current ERP systems are out of reach for the businesses which compose the backbone of our economy.

However, small and medium business owners now have access to cutting edge ERP systems free of charge thanks to Free and open source software (FLOSS). lists a number of ERP & CRM systems. The most advanced and complete are ADempiere, Compiere and OpenBravo.

These Web-based ERP & CRM systems operate both on Windows, Mac, Solaris and Linux operating systems.

For businesses who do not need the complete functionality of ERP, other FLOSS exist to meet their needs. These include GNUcash and TurboCash.

As with all ERP systems, these still require considerable investments for consultation and implementation. But users will save in both the immediate and long term since they will never have to pay software licensing fees. Companies will also have their data saved according to international standards. Therefore, implementing new functions and fusing with other systems will be much smoother than if two non-compatible proprietary formats must be joined together.

Without going the FOSS route, small and medium businesses can now use Web based tools such as Google Apps (email, spreadsheets, word processor, presentation, and more). Adobe recently announced it will offer a web-based version of its popular Photoshop software.

Basically, there has never been a better time to truly become a fully digital firm.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Why pay for software?

Before rushing out to purchase the latest software update, take the time to check if a similar application exists in free and open-source software (FOSS) form. You may be surprised to learn that most of the applications you use in your day to day routine are available free of charge. Furthermore, they are developped according to internationally recognized standards.

Everything from operating systems to the most popular applications exist as FOSS. Firefox and Linux are probably the better know FOSS out there. Here is a list of other very useful FOSS applications and their proprietary equivalents:

MS Office /
Adobe Photoshop /
Adobe Illustrator /
Skype / Gizmo
MSN Messenger / Pidgin
Microsoft Windows /

It must be stated that most FOSS is not quite as user friendly as proprietary equivalents. The installation process of some FOSS is also somewhat more complicated than it is for proprietary equivalents.

On the upside, most FOSS applications are backed by large online communities of developpers and users. There exist wikis, user manuals and intuitive tutorials to help users install and make use of various applications, all for free. Furthermore, even though users have no interest in making the effort to get things to work themsleves, they can pay someone to do it. The upfront cost is likely to be equal if not less than the total cost of purchasing proprietary software.

In the long run, users (or companies) will never have to pay for updates, new versions, license fees, etc. If the upgrading and implementation process of FOSS costs money, well, so does it for proprietary software (when was the last time you set up your computer at work... usually the tech does it... techs cost money).

Not only will individuals and companies save money in the short and long run by adopting FOSS, they will also learn new computer skills using standardized applications which aren't at the mercy of software companies (oh, sorry, we don't support that version anymore, you must purchase the newer one).

For a list of most FOSS projects, visit